Your company probably spends a pile of money on designing logos, marketing materials and packaging that are consistent with its brand. Your company likely has a budget to train staff so they deliver a consistent experience for everyone who comes into contact with you.
I work with a lot of companies that do this. But with many I do end up wondering, after spending all this money to build a brand, why do they leave presentations to the whims of the presenter?
It doesn’t take much to chip away at your image. A grotesque hot pink chosen for a bar graph, a crazy new font that doesn’t appear anywhere in your marketing materials, a bootlegged photo from Google Images and, all too often, a message that is obscured by a clutter of information…these are all ways your brand is undermined in presentations.
Just like everything else, keep your presentations consistent.
"The importance of an idea is often judged by the fluency (and emotional charge) with which that idea comes to mind."
Last week in Stand and Command a question came up about questions. In my experience most presenters dread Question & Answer period because they feel they are being grilled, put on the hot seat, or challenged.
The truth is a lively Q&A is the best indicator you’ve engaged your audience, given them something to think about and persuaded them that your idea is worthy of discussion.
So why dread the Q&A?
Usually, it’s because of the elephant. The one objection, hurdle or point of contention you know could prevent your idea from moving forward - that’s the elephant. If someone mentions the elephant surely it will kill your story, destroy your idea and your presentation will be a flop.
Not if you mention the elephant first.
For every Q&A, predict the questions you’ll be asked and rehearse your answers.
If there is an elephant, work it into your presentation and address it as logically and persuasively as you can. You have now neutralized its power and strengthened your idea.
Do this for every high stakes presentation and you’ll be a Q&A master. You might even start to enjoy it.
I’m reading a fantastic book right now by Daniel Kahneman called Thinking, Fast and Slow. (A must read for anyone who wants to understand how we make judgements, form impressions and develop beliefs). Kahneman talks about the power of the halo effect - which is really just another way of describing a great first impression.
For presentions, the halo effect is critical. If you deliver a compelling and meaningful story with clarity, confidence and enthusiasm your audience will assume you do your job well and they will want to work with you or do business with you.
What if you don’t deliver a compelling and meaningful story with clarity, confidence and enthusiasm?
What will your audience assume then?
I went to see a high school friend, Jen Grant, perform her stand-up routine at Yuk-Yuk’s last week and I learned a lot about the power of a great presenter. The place was nearly empty - an audience of about 12 people. Before the show, I sat there thinking, “Man, this is going to be tough.” The Yuk-Yuk’s manager did well. He squished us all into the front two rows and set the chairs up so we’d be right next to each other. He made the room feel smaller than it was. In spite of his efforts the first comedian out (not my friend) didn’t handle it well. My impression was that it had put him off and he had trouble hiding it or changing his routine to suit a smaller group. It was awkward at times and we didn’t laugh a lot. I kept thinking, “Too bad the audience is so small.” My opinion changed, however, after my friend’s performance. Jen used the intimacy to her advantage, made us all laugh hard, and it seemed like she could stay on stage forever. She didn’t let it phase her or, if it did, she refused to let it show.
As presenters it is our job to commit to our story and be flexible enough to respond to less than ideal situations. You may be looking at a sea of dead pan faces, your key decision maker may have skipped your presentation, your technology might fail. Be flexible, don’t let it faze you and remember, you are there for them - your audience. Whoever they may be and whatever mood they may be in.
After the Yuk-Yuk’s show, Jen told me about her training at Second City in Improv. I’ve done other classes and I think improv is the best training you can get in flexible thinking, risk-taking, and active listening - all important skills for great presentations.
And check out Jen Grant’s comedy act. She is great storytelling in action.